Becoming Nobody

As many of you might know, I was one of the founders of Many Gods West, along with Niki Whiting and P. Sufenas Virius Lupus.  Two of us (PSVL and I) had attended a smaller conference the year before called the Polytheist Leadership Conference.  It was the first of its kind in the United States, and it was pretty incredible.

At the end of it, there was a call for another conference of its kind, or multiple conferences. I was one of the people who said, ‘sure, I’ll help!’ But never say, ‘sure, I’ll help,’ because gods will absolutely bite the cup you offer them.

So, a few months later, I found myself with Niki Whiting and PSVL planning out Many Gods West.  It was a lot of work, fraught with personality conflicts. Not particularly between the three of us, but rather everyone else. When a handful of people get together to put on something like that, everyone’s got interests, everyone wants to make sure their concerns are represented. Basically, everyone wanted to make sure it went well, went right. Of course, very few people actually wanted to help, but that’s okay.

Anyway, so we throw Many Gods West. And it was brutally beautiful, and better than I’d dared hope.  There were all kinds of people there, many of whom had no idea who some of the ‘personalities’ (including me!) of Polytheism were.  They were there because they knew gods, and wanted to know more about them.

It was pretty humbling.  Afterwards, I wrote a piece called Dahut At The Floodgates to describe what I saw coming for us all. I wrote about the non-hierarchical relations I saw there, how ‘rockstars’ and ‘leaders’ didn’t really matter, and what kind of danger we might be in if we get ourselves in the way of the opening floodgates.

I also told Niki that I wouldn’t be involved in the next one. Besides having little time and having a sense I’d be in Europe this year (I will), I also understand something about my personality.  I’m ‘charismatic,’ strong-willed, and utterly unafraid of speaking truth as I see it.  Those are incredibly good traits if you want to start something, but not very good traits for maintaining something.  The very things that help birth something into the world can get in the way, just as a parent’s doting over an infant keeps the child alive, but later doting stifles and smothers.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how my personality works, how it’s good for some things and horrible for others.  My personality and willingness to sacrifice for a greater good was what helped birth Gods&Radicals into the world. It’s also not incredibly useful for very long-term parts of the organisation where a fiery personality and airy mind are of less use than a earthy stamina or a watery sensitivity.

Also, a few people at the end of last year named me an ‘influential Pagan.’  And that was awesome, and humbling, but it was also my cue to work harder towards making sure the things I’ve birthed into the world can sustain themselves without me.  As you may know, I was the editor of the first issue of A Beautiful Resistance, but I am not the editor of the next one.  Not only can I not do everything, but it’s a very bad idea for anyone to try.  Besides, Gods&Radicals was never about me anyway, nor was Many Gods West.

When I look at how Gods&Radicals has gone so far, how self-directing and self-sustaining it’s become (sometimes in spite of my bumbling), I’m in awe. And also happy, because that means that it is becoming what it should be and needs to be, not what I want it to be.

And when I look at the way Many Gods West is being run this year, I’m similarly in awe.  There’s been some conflict (including stuff involving me!) which has caused some strife with a few folks. And I actually tried to change the minds of the organisers regarding one matter, and they weren’t having it. 

Go figure that my experience as co-founder carried no authoritative weight in a conference I helped ritually birth to be immune to authoritarian tendencies.  (I’m still laughing at myself here…)

Though the resolution I was hoping for didn’t happen, and I completely understand and support their autonomy and decision, there was another lesson in all that.

Authority, hierarchy, and pulling rank?  That’s all gonna get in the way of what we wanted in the first place.  And it will be very, very hard for us to let go.

By ‘us’ I mean the people who have spent years trying to world the gods into the earth, to come up with practices and devotional structures and traditions that would help people understand their relationships to the Other. A lot of that stuff was built with sweat and tears back when I was still hoping that one day I’d find out that gods were real.

And like mothers who opened our bodies to bring something in the world, there was plenty of love and plenty of pain.  And we should always honor that.

And there were also lots of mistakes. Some awful ones, some silly ones.  Some practices that actually harmed people, some which disillusioned people.  That is, all the trials, mistakes, errors, and even real harm that can occur when raising a child.  Some of those will probably be happily forgiven, some should probably never be forgotten.

But now? Now I think we’re all starting to realise something, maybe mostly unconsciously.

We’re soon to become irrelevant.  And that’s fucking amazing.

There will be a time when people have no idea who the hell Rhyd Wildermuth is, only what Gods&Radicals is.  And that’s how it should be.

There will also be a time when people have no idea who I am but learn to meet Brân or Arianrhod through worldings I learned through my absurd, clumsy, awen-drunk musings.

There will be a time people don’t know who I am or what I’ve done, and that’s precisely how it should be.

I don’t have a lot of time to follow some of the debates on the internet right now (and, well, it’s just the internet anyway).  But I know some friends and former friends and collegues and maybe people who wouldn’t be caught dead being associated with me anymore have been a bit grumpy.  And in their anger and frustration I see exactly the same thing I am experiencing right now, the inescapable awareness that soon there will be so many people talking about gods and the dead who will have no fucking clue who we are.

It’s awesome, dear ones.  Embrace it.

We’ll be irrelevant. We’ll be nobodies. We’ll get to walk through a bookstore and see all sorts of authors talking about the gods we worked so hard to do things for and smile. We’ll run into complete strangers doing ritual parades and building shrines to gods we’ve never heard of. We’ll be in awe of what other people learned. We might sometimes get a little grumpy hearing the ideas we thought were ours reformulated in completely different ways by people who don’t give a shit that we fought and argued for hours on the internet. If anything, we’ll probably be embarrassed at ourselves.

That time’s coming.  I think it’s already mostly here. And rather than all these new people working with us, we’ll find ourselves needing to work with them instead. We’ll get to learn from them, if we don’t close ourselves off, if we don’t demand that our way was the only way, and we don’t try to smother them in our fear.

And also, we might get to rest a little in the beauty of our complete irrelevance.

And I suspect many of us could really use that rest.

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